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Audit finds Baltimore region had the second-most missing mail reports in U.S., blames mismanagement and understaffing

The Baltimore postal district had the second-most reports of missing mail in the nation between October 2019 and June, according to a U.S. Postal Service inspector general’s audit, which blamed mismanagement, inaccurate reporting of delayed mail and too few carriers for the persistent delivery problems.

Complaints about delays in Baltimore-area customers receiving checks, letters, prescription medications, presents and holiday cards have dogged the Postal Service during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Such complaints spurred U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume in May to request an audit for nine post offices — Dundalk, Essex, Rosedale, Parkville, Middle River, Loch Raven, Clifton East End, Druid and Carroll.

Issues persisted at each location, according to the report. The Baltimore district includes 28 post offices, including the nine that were the focus of the audit.

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Rupperberger, Mfume, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes joined eastern Baltimore County state representatives outside the Dundalk Post Office late Tuesday morning to announce the audit’s completion.

“We’ve heard from outraged constituents, we’ve visited post offices ourselves, we experienced the frustration firsthand,” Ruppersberger said during a news conference.

So the audit’s findings, he said, weren’t surprising.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger gives an update on the audit by the USPS Inspector General of post offices in the Baltimore area that have received many complaints about long delays receiving mail. Standing with him outside the Dundalk Sparrows Point Post Office are from left, Maryland State Del. Ric Metzgar and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling. November 9, 2021.
Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger gives an update on the audit by the USPS Inspector General of post offices in the Baltimore area that have received many complaints about long delays receiving mail. Standing with him outside the Dundalk Sparrows Point Post Office are from left, Maryland State Del. Ric Metzgar and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling. November 9, 2021. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

The inspector general’s report shows that Baltimore ranked second only to Chicago for the most missing mail inquiries during the period reviewed — about three times the national average.

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In a response letter to the inspector general, the USPS Maryland district manager, Lora McLucas, wrote that she agreed with each recommendation and promised changes. McLucas was appointed to her position in September.

Auditors reviewed data from a 92-week period and visited the post offices in late June. During that week, data in the National Delivery Intelligence Dashboard showed that 14% of the routes at the nine post offices failed to deliver to at least 50% of their drop-offs locations.

And around 42% packages were scanned incorrectly, the audit found, obscuring recipients’ ability to track the status of their packages in real time.

Auditors found mail postmarked December 2020 in a Dundalk mailroom in June. And at an Essex post office, auditors observed carriers sorting mail whose delivery already had been delayed by a month. In June, six of the nine post offices reviewed had about 80,000 pieces of undelivered mail each, according to the report.

Auditors also found that delayed mail wasn’t correctly reported. Managers at the nine post offices properly reported just 21% of approximately 972,000 pieces of missing mail. And three post offices — Dundalk, Parkville and Rosedale — failed to report any missing mail at all.

Managers were slow to ask for outside help, the report noted. Mail delays increased significantly in March and April this year, but district management didn’t ask for assistance sorting and delivering the mail from beyond the Baltimore region until late June (the same week the auditors made site visits), according to the report.

And while the postal system has felt the effects of a national workforce shortage, the report found that managers continued to pay part-time mail carriers even though they’d been terminated or had resigned.

About 40 part-time carriers who either resigned or were terminated in January and February 2021 were still paid through March, according to the auditor’s report. Managers didn’t seek new hires for those positions because they didn’t appear to be vacant.

The audit recommends postal managers remove all part-time workers from the payroll if they are no longer employed, but does not suggest how many workers still are being paid improperly.

Post office managers blamed the lack of available staff for postal woes. Auditors found that the availability of Baltimore-area postal workers generally fell below the national average and added that the Baltimore district doesn’t maintain enough carriers to ensure on-time mail delivery.

The district is allowed to hire up to 300 part-time mail carriers, but has not hired nearly that many in the last 13 months. It came closest in April, when it retained 238 part-time carriers.

Darryl Welsh, a Dundalk resident who stood outside the eastern Baltimore County post office Tuesday, said he sympathized with postal service workers. His own mail carrier, an older woman, is often delivering mail until 10 p.m., he said.

“She has been out there until 10 p.m. with a miner’s light to see where the addresses are,” Welsh said. “It’s not a safe thing for her to do, either. She’s got five routes.”

The report offers two new diagnostic tools that the Baltimore postmaster was not previously using. Those are the National Delivery Intelligence Dashboard, which uses scanner data to track missing mail on a particular day, and a triangulation report, which details metrics like employee availability, non-deliveries and inquires that are used to rank an individual post office’s performance.

“Baltimore Post Office management said they now use these tools daily to identify units that are having the most issues with mail delivery and to determine where they need to shift carriers,” the report said.

McLucas told the inspector general that supervisors will now “require daily audio-visual evidence of the delayed mail reported” to confirm accuracy and that employees across the district will be trained on reporting procedures. And she wrote that her office would begin coordinating plans to create a third training facility for new carriers.

Jaime Lennon, an aide for Ruppersberger, said that complaints about postal service to the congressman’s office had declined since McLucas was hired.

“Because of this audit, we now have the data,” Ruppersberger said. “And more importantly, data-driven recommendations.”

Management already has begun to initiate some of them, he said.

The auditors have set deadlines of Nov. 15 and Nov. 30 for when some of their seven recommendations, like drafting a new hiring and retention plan, must be implemented.

And a separate audit of the distribution center in downtown Baltimore is expected by end of the year.

On Tuesday, Ruppersberger and other Democratic representatives reiterated their calls to have Postmaster General Louis DeJoy removed from his post.

DeJoy is a former Republican fundraiser appointed during the administration of then-President Donald Trump, who took actions in 2020 that critics said were intended to slow the delivery of mail-in ballots, including plans to remove more than 600 mail-sorting machines across the country.

DeJoy has said he is making the agency more efficient and fiscally sound. In March, he announced a 10-year plan, including higher prices for postage and extending a window for delivering first-class mail from one to three days to one to five days.

A USPS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about DeJoy.

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Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

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